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Flash Review, 3-31: What she when she
Yokoshi Carves Carver

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2006 Maura Nguyen Donohue

NEW YORK -- The notably outrageous choreographer Yasuko Yokoshi's latest creation, "What we when we," proved to be a sensually meditative work last weekend at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church. Inspired by Raymond Carver's acclaimed short story, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," the dance, like Carver's writing, subverts simplicity with sublime glimpses into the depths of love and loss.

Yokoshi's choreography brings traditional Japanese Kabuki Su-odori dance forward into the current day with the aid of fellow performers and contemporary trained Japanese artists Ryutaro Mishima, Kazu Nakamura, Matsuhide Nakashima, and Hiromi Naruse. The effect is purely post-modern Zen. The economy of motion, extreme levels of order, and lack of ornamentation bring our focus in towards the most minute gesture. I am repeatedly seduced by the deliberate way in which Mishima pulls cigarettes from his yukata sleeve and specifically shifts his box of matches an inch over along the floor; the way a quick click of the heel of a geta allows the wearer to step out of his wooden clogs; or a man's slow stroll as he is trailed by a scampering woman whose shuffle echoes through the church. Each moment is so understated and yet makes me instantly nostalgic for a Japan I have yet to actually encounter beyond the film screen.

Su-odori (in English, "Bare dance") is a stripped-down response to the exaggerated gestures, costumes and make-up of Kabuki. However, like a proper contemporary artist, Yokoshi cleverly employs modern looking gender play that in reality is derived from conventional Kabuki-styled onnagata (female impersonator) performances by Nakamura and Nakashima. Both men handle moments of refined female head tilts and glances with superb comfort and then shift easily for a masculine, climactic trio with Mishima complete with foot stomps, head snaps and the trademark cross-eyed stares.

Yokoshi credits her 76-year-old teacher Masumi Seyama with some of the choreography, this being the first time Seyama's traditional disciplines have been appropriated for Western-style contemporary dance making. Yokoshi speaks at length about her training and process in an interview with Tere O'Connor on Movement Research's website, so I'll refer you there rather than contextualize further here, but will share that the evening-length work includes exquisite passages of traditional dance.


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